District effectiveness is determined by the success of district policies and practices and the coordination of operations and resources to ensure better student learning outcomes and to enhance equity for all students (Bottoms and Fry 2009; Dailey, Fleischman, Gil, Holtzman, O’Day, and Vosmer 2005; Elmore and Burney 2002; Hightower 2002; Iatarola and Fruchte 2004; Leithwood 2010; Murphy and Hallinger 1986/2002; Peterson, Murphy, and Hallinger 1987; Rorrer, Skrla and Scheurich 2008; Togneri and Anderson 2003). District effectiveness research focuses on the district’s role in initiating and monitoring reform to raise student achievement (Bottoms and Fry 2009; Dailey et al. 2005; Hightower 2002) and in supporting continuous improvement and school reform (Elmore and Burney 2002).
District central offices create the structures and practices for schools and students to succeed. Over the past 40 years, researchers and practitioners have developed a foundational awareness of practices found to be connected to highly effective districts (Anderson and Young 2018). There is an important and potentially positive relationship between certain district practices and district effectiveness. These practices encompass three major domains: (a) developing and delivering high quality education; (b) structuring and managing the organization and its resources; and (c) supporting and leading people in schools and districts. The more evident these practices are in a district, the more likely the district will have effective schools and strong student learning outcomes.
Four practices jointly represent the domain of developing and delivering a high-quality education. The four practices are (a) having a district-wide focus on student achievement and learning; (b) using district-wide approaches to curriculum and instruction; (c) implementing district-wide, job-embedded professional development; and (d) investing in instructional leadership. These practices describe how effective districts ensure high quality instruction and are interrelated and closely connected to the other two domains.
Five practices embody the domain of structuring and managing the organization and its resources. The five practices are (a) facilitating infrastructure alignment; (b) using evidence for planning, organizational learning, and accountability; (c) engaging strategically with the government agenda for change; (d) having an openness to and capacity for change; and (e) focusing and planning school improvement. Each practice has to do with developing organizational capacity both within the district and between the district and policymakers.
The last domain is supporting and leading people in schools and districts. The four practices are (a) building and maintaining good communications, communities of learning, and district culture; (b) focusing on personnel and roles; (c) fostering a district-wide sense of efficacy, and (d) focusing on equity. These all relate to the human capital development work in which an effective district must engage. This set of practices addresses the professional roles of the central office and teachers, as well as the social environment that enhance staffs’ work and learning and supports the success of all students.